Impact of COVID-19 on Food Security and Livelihoods in Kenya

Impact of COVID-19 on Food Security and Livelihoods in Kenya

“Food insecurity remains a major concern for numerous rural households in Sub-Saharan Africa who rely on agriculture as their main source of livelihood.”

Infectious diseases such as COVID-19, Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), their associated mortalities and desperate control and prevention measures, remain a significant threat throughout the world, thereby deteriorating the production capacity of the world food chains as well as food and nutrition security status of many households. Since the first case of the COVID-19 was reported in Kenya, the pandemic continues to deepen pre-existing inequalities as well as exposing vulnerabilities in social, political, and economic systems which are in turn amplifying the impacts of the pandemic on food and nutritional security.

As COVID-19 continues to advance, it is difficult to know the extent of the impact on food production and distribution systems. Looking at past infections as well as China’s way of dealing with COVID-19, might guide policymakers and development partners in future policy formulation and programming. Also, many studies have been conducted to evaluate the impact of epidemics and natural disasters on food security. Most studies posited that many households are most likely to be hit due to the negative impact of epidemics on crop production, incomes, movements, and food chains which increases the problem of food and nutritional insecurity throughout the world.

Before the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, food insecurity was already on the rise in Kenya due to factors such as climatic shocks and livestock pests and diseases. The desert locust outbreak added to the already growing concerns. COVID-19 has worsened the situation by hampering efforts to fight one of the largest locust swarms in recent times. This reflects vast spending on response measures and humanitarian food assistance. The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics estimates that about 12 million people are food poor. These are people whose income doesn’t enable them to consume enough calories for a healthy lifestyle and two-thirds of the food poor individuals are found in rural areas.

In most Sub-Saharan Africa countries, the pandemic has already crippled the entire food system and Kenya has not been left behind. This is because of restricted movement which affects the entire aspects of food security (availability, affordability, utilization, and accessibility). Similarly, the movement of agricultural labour has been hampered, which will adversely affect food production. Much as agricultural-related logistics have been largely considered essential, not all people can afford logistical services, and this may ultimately result in high post-harvest losses. However, a significant reduction in the export market also has significant challenges in agriculture since most of the Kenyan export is agricultural output.

This means that the government through the ministries concerned needs to have concerted efforts to reinforce inter-country cooperation through proper policies, at least in the short run to address these challenges. In terms of agricultural production, COVID-19 could disrupt the availability and affordability of agricultural inputs, particularly as devalued currencies and higher-cost logistics may make inputs more expensive. At the same time, contraction in remittances might impede farmers’ ability to purchase inputs, and disruptions in port and inland logistics could affect distribution.

The long-term effects of new coronavirus deaths, curtailment of movements, the disruption of food production and systems, and among other factors are not yet known. However, many lessons can be learned from past epidemics and natural disasters and management strategies that have been undertaken by Wuhan, China. The immediate effects have been witnessed in many areas where people scramble and kill one another during the distribution of humanitarian aid. Additionally, many food processing enterprises have been forced to shut down due to strict response strategies, and this can further escalate the food insecurity in the country if these firms cannot restart production soon.

Regardless of the effects of COVID-19, several beneficial inventions have been improvised to support business operations. One of the most embraced innovations is online businesses between farmers and customers, especially in cities or aggregators. Social media has also been used in marketing activities. Home deliveries from agricultural shop outlets as well as fresh horticultural product supplies are among the ideal mechanisms that have been used during the pandemic and may aid in future business transactions.

Beyond addressing the immediate concerns surrounding health and food emergencies, the COVID-19 pandemic offers an opportunity for decisive collective action towards building resilient food systems. Thus, as various policy-makers in different countries engage on how to meet the food security demands of their nations considering disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic; this is also the time to consider enhancing your skills on food security, there are various short training courses in Food Security and Livelihoods offered by Indepth Research Institute (IRES) aimed at advancing the skills and knowledge of the participants.